Precious Metals Rules For Your Solo 401(k)

Self-directed 401(k) owners, companies in the industry, and many professionals have been confused on what rules, if any, govern when buying precious metals with a self-directed 401(k). There is a code section in IRC 408(m) that outlines what metals can be owned by a self-directed IRA and how they should be stored. I have an article that summarized those here. However, this section of the code is written for IRAs and many have questioned whether it should be applied to 401(k) accounts as well? The short answer is, yes, and here are two reasons why.

I. Most Solo K Plan Documents Adopt IRC 408(m).

Most 401(k) plans, including Solo 401(k)s, adopt IRC 408(m), which specify which precious metals your Solo K may own and provides a storage requirement. Since the plan documents restrict what precious metals your 401(k) may own, all accounts under the plan most follow the plan rules. Many may wonder, well can’t I just amend my 401(k) plan? Not exactly. Most Solo K plans are volume-submitter IRS pre-approved plans and take years to create and get approved with the IRS. A change requires approval from the provider of those plans and they’d have to change it for all their customers. This isn’t likely to occur, especially given point two below.

II. The IRS Wants Your Solo (k) to Follow the IRA Precious Metals Rule.

The IRS has issued guidance to 401(k) plans that are individually directed and has stated that the rules of IRC 408(m) should be followed when a 401(k) account purchases precious metals. To view the IRS analysis, check out their resource page here.

Consequently, Solo 401(k) owners buying precious metals should follow the IRA rules for precious metals and should only buy qualifying gold, silver, platinum, or palladium, and should make sure that such metals are stored with a third party qualifying institution (bank, credit union, or trust company).

RADIO AD WARNING: SELF-DIRECTED IRA INVESTORS SHOULD GO FOR THE GOLD WITH CAUTION

Gold-Bar-IRA 

I hear a radio ad every week that says, “there is a loophole that allows you to use your IRA to buy physical gold “tax-free” and that you can EVEN store this gold in your home.” If these radio ads were on T.V., there’d probably be an image of Scrooge McDuck swimming in gold at his McMansion. These ads cause much concern as they give some misleading information. The good news is that you really can use your IRA to invest in gold. In fact, I have many clients who like to buy actual physical gold with their IRAs. And we’re not talking about gold funds or gold ETFs, but actual solid gold. You can also own silver, platinum, and palladium with your IRA so long as those metals meet certain legal requirements. Here’s the catch though and what the radio ads are missing, you can only own precious metals that meet certain legal requirements and you cannot personally store the metals. Don’t count on someone who sells precious metals to be an expert on IRA rules. They make money when you buy precious metals and they have no training or license to properly advise you, so get your legal and tax advice from a competent lawyer or tax adviser.

LEGAL RULES FOR IRA OWNED PRECIOUS METALS

Precious metals have been a popular investment for retirement plans since the financial market collapse in 2008. Most standard IRAs with financial institution custodians will typically only offer precious metals through funds or other complex structures whereby the IRA does not directly own the precious metals. A self-directed IRA can hold actual precious metals as long as those metals are not considered collectibles under law and as long as they are properly stored.

Only precious metals which meet the requirements of IRC § 408(m)(3) may be owned by an IRA. All other metals or coins are considered collectible items and cannot be held by an IRA. IRC § 408(m)(2)(C), and (D).

There are two categories of approved precious metals. The first category are specifically approved coins, such as American Gold or Silver eagles. The second category is bullion (e.g bars, or coin form bullion) that is gold, silver, platinum, or palladium, AND that meets certain purity requirements. The purity requirements are outlined below.

  • Gold, meeting minimum fineness requirements of 99.5%.
  • Silver, meeting minimum fineness requirements of 99.9%.
  • Platinum, meeting minimum fineness requirements of 99.95%.
  • Palladium, meeting minimum fineness requirements of 99.95%

Precious metals must be stored with a “bank” (eg. bank, credit union, or trust company). Personal storage of precious metals owned by an IRA is not allowed. A broker-dealer, third-party administrator, or any company not licensed as a bank, credit union, or trust company may not store precious metals owned by an IRA. IRS Private Letter Ruling 200217059.

There has been much confusion about owning precious metals with an IRA and there is confusion over some “loophole” that allows you to store them in your home. Our advice is against home storage, for tax code reasons and for security reasons. We’ve outlined the tax reasons more fully in a prior blog article you can check out here. In general though, our advice is that if your self-directed account owns metals directly through your custodian account then those metals will be stored with the custodian or with a “bank” whom the custodian uses for customers. If the metals are bought with an IRA owned LLC, then the metals of the LLC are subject to the storage rules and this can be satisfied by the LLC opening up a safe deposit box with a bank and by physically storing the metals there.

If an IRA purchases precious metals that do not meet the specific requirements of IRC § 408(m)(3), then the precious metals are deemed collectible items. As a result, they are considered distributed from the IRA at the time of purchase. IRC § 408(m)(1). Similarly, if the storage requirement is violated, then the precious metals are also deemed distributed as of the date of the storage violation. IRS Private Letter Ruling 20021705. The consequence of distribution is that the value of the amount involved is deemed distributed and is subject to the applicable taxes and penalty.

Go for the gold, or silver, or the other approved metals with your IRA. But make sure the metals meet the code requirements and that they are properly stored.

This article is an excerpt from Chapter 12: Precious Metals of The Self Directed IRA Handbook by Mat Sorensen

WHAT EVERY SELF DIRECTED IRA INVESTOR SHOULD KNOW ABOUT PRECIOUS METALS

what-sdira-investors-should-know-about-metalsPrecious metals have been a popular investment for retirement plans since the financial market collapse in 2008. Most standard IRAs with financial institution custodians will typically only offer precious metals through funds or other complex structures whereby the IRA does not directly own the precious metals. A self directed IRA can hold actual precious metals as long as those metals are not considered collectibles under law and as long as they are properly stored.

Only precious metals which meet the requirements of IRC § 408(m)(3) may be owned by an IRA. All other metals or coins are considered collectible items and cannot be held by an IRA. IRC § 408(m)(2)(C), and (D).

There are two categories of approved precious metals. The first category are specifically approved coins, such as American Gold or Silver eagles. The second category is bullion (e.g bars, or coin form bullion) that is gold, silver, platinum, or palladium, AND that meets certain purity requirements. The purity requirements are outlined below.

  • Gold, meeting minimum fineness requirements of 99.5%.
  • Silver, meeting minimum fineness requirements of 99.9%.
  • Platinum, meeting minimum fineness requirements of 99.95%.
  • Palladium, meeting minimum fineness requirements of 99.95%

Precious metals must be stored with a licensed financial institution or trust company. Personal storage of precious metals owned by an IRA is not allowed. A broker-dealer, third-party administrator, or any company not licensed as a bank, credit union, or trust company may not store precious metals owned by an IRA. IRS Private Letter Ruling 200217059.

If an IRA purchases precious metals that do not meet the specific requirements of IRC § 408(m)(3), then the precious metals are deemed  collectible items. As a result, they are considered distributed from the IRA at the time of purchase. IRC § 408(m)(1). Similarly, if the storage requirement is violated, then the precious metals are also deemed distributed as of the date of the storage violation. IRS Private Letter Ruling 20021705. The consequence of distribution is that the value of the amount involved is deemed distributed and is subject to the applicable taxes and penalty.

By: Mat Sorensen, Attorney & Author of The Self Directed IRA Handbook

This article is an excerpt from Chapter 12: Precious Metals of The Self Directed IRA Handbook by Mat Sorensen